Over the years, Matt Dike’s rep has drifted towards myth. His career as record producer reached its apotheosis in the summer of 1989, with the release of Beastie Boys’ sophomore opus Paul’s Boutique, its technicolor brilliance liberating the Beasties from eternal damnation as beer-drinkin’, breath-stinkin’ frat rap caricatures. Dike was an original member of Dust Brothers, the production crew he named in tribute to Rick Rubin’s 1985 solo track “Dust Cloud.” He’d pioneered their oddball, sample-savvy style before, post-Paul’s, fellow Dust Brothers “EZ Mike” Simpson and John “Gizmo” King absconded with the moniker.
On the commentary track of the deluxe CD reissue of Paul’s Boutique, Beastie Boy Adam Yauch remembers hanging out at Dike’s apartment and hearing the music that would comprise the album for the first time: “Matt broke out some crazy hash oil and got ourselves into a really compromised state and played us a couple of tracks, including ‘Full Clout.’ That’s how we met the Dust Brothers.”
Abetted by dozens of layered loops, Paul’s Boutique was a distinctly L.A. album by an explicitly New York band, its trippy headspace light years from the concussive cuts of Beasties’ debut, the Rubin-produced Licensed to Ill. Dike’s sample selections looked beyond rap’s stock-in-trade to excavate albums by Pink Floyd, David Bromberg, Black Oak Arkansas and Alice Cooper.
Rave reviews from critics did little, however, for an LP that climbed no higher than #14 on the charts. It took six years for Paul’s Boutique to be certified platinum. (Licensed to Ill, its predecessor, had spent seven consecutive weeks atop the Billboard 200 on its way to selling ten million copies.)
Yet Dike was no stranger to the top of the charts: He’d already enjoyed inconceivable success with Delicious Vinyl, the record label he’d co-founded with L.A. funk DJ Michael Ross in 1987. They worked out of a railroad flat above a carburetor shop in a sketchy commercial stretch of Hollywood. Using analog gear – a combination of Dike’s thrift store finds and an Allen & Heath CMC board purchased by engineer Mario Caldato, Jr. – they made records that hit the hip-hop jackpot. Tone-Loc’s 1989 single “Wild Thing,” produced by Dike and Ross, sold over two million copies via heavy MTV airplay. Two more massive crossover hits – Tone-Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina” and Young MC’s “Bust A Move” – followed in quick succession.
Then, as Delicious Vinyl entered a new phase with the signing of the Pharcyde, Matt Dike disappeared.
“Dike was the best,” says Michael Ross, who assumed sole ownership of Delicious Vinyl in 1992. “It was always about the music. All day, every day. When we’d take a break, we’d go to the basketball courts across the street from his apartment. He played hoops like Lurch.”
Los Angeles, December 2009:
I’d been calling Matt Dike for a year.
It yielded nothing – no answering machine, just endless ringing. Ross had given me Dike’s number with a caveat: “I haven’t spoken to him in fifteen years.”
Until, one night in December, 2009, when I placed a call on the stroke of midnight. And Matt Dike picked up.
“You want to interview me? For what?” Dike’s rasped response sounded more curious than confrontational. When I explained that Paul’s Boutique is a stone classic, that those Tone-Loc and Young MC hits still bring joy whenever they’re played, he relented. “Oh man, I’m so happy you like those records! If you want to talk about that stuff,” the Howard Hughes of hip-hop suggested, “why not just come up to the house right now?”
After a House of Spirits pit-stop for a 12-pack, I cruised through the heart of Echo Park, taking the turn up Lemoyne to where the serpentine street splits, the higher lane narrowing at its crest. A stand of high firs obscured a gate with twisted hinges. Atop a crumbling driveway a dusty black limousine slumbered like a sunken dinosaur.
One night of stories turned into several visits between the years of 2009 and 2012 – the only in-person interviews Matt Dike granted in the final two decades of his life. What follows is pieced together from those conversations.
“I love the Beastie Boys.”
Matt Dike is perched on a shabby velvet ottoman at the far end of his sumptuous front parlor. He’s dressed in shredded jeans, a moth-worn Public Enemy t-shirt, a bandana and backwards baseball cap shrouding long lank locks.
“I mean, after you get to know them, they’re super nice guys, but they’re very clannish and protective of each other, which is how it should be. To infiltrate their domain is not easy. I had no notion to become any closer friend than I was.
“When I first heard Licensed To Ill, I lost my shit. I mean, ‘Time to Get Ill’? When I heard that I was almost crying. The fidelity jumped off the vinyl. When I played it in the club it was the slammin’est thing.
“I was so in awe of ‘It’s Yours’ and those early Def Jam records Rick Rubin made, they were snappy and crisp. I always wanted my records to sound like that. After me and Mike Ross started Delicious Vinyl, we made the first pressing of Tone-Loc ‘On Fire’ and were looking at each other like, Uh, where’s that SOUND?
“I asked Rick, he said it’s all in the engineering. He told me when the Beasties made ‘Rhymin’ & Stealin’,’ they ran a tape loop, with pencils, around mic stands. They didn’t have samplers. That’s fuckin’ awesome! As I say this, do I sound like a bifocal-wearing grandpa?”
Dike stands and grins, cupping a hand over his mouth. He’s got on an ancient pair of Airwalks, heels mashed down like carpet slippers. He begins to shuffle across the polished parquet floor, past a cardboard box stuffed with records and a paint-splattered herringbone overcoat and a grimy MPC60 set on a pile of newspapers. A fat gray cat whisks past his leg.
“I gotta say, Mike D is one of the funniest guys ever,” Dike enthuses. “Me and Mike D were debating, ‘Now just what is the difference between hyper and stupid? It really is a very fine line.’ And Mike D said, ‘That should be the title of the next Beastie Boys record.’ He got really mad when we put the song ‘The Fine Line Between Hyper and Stupid’ on that Tone Loc 12-inch. Tone got mad too, but that’s because he had nothing to do with it and we put it on his record.”
Dike laughs, coughs, then cough-laugh-coughs. He sits back down, his voice crackling with wistful ebullience.
“You know, I have such a fondness for Yauch. You couldn’t have the Beastie Boys without Yauch. You just couldn’t! When I initially met him he was very standoffish and kind of obnoxious. When the Beasties first came to work at my apartment they had these really, really sexist rhymes. Yauch had this one for ‘Car Thief’ that went ‘you were holding my dick while I was pissing on your girl,’ and I go, ‘Dude, do you realize how that sounds?’ And Yauch goes, ‘Oh. Yeah. We gotta change that.’
“It was after that where he became anti-sexist. No dissing girls. But initially they still had that attitude they had on Licensed to Ill. The whole attitude turned over right in that period.
“Man, Yauch was so fun to work with. He would bring his bass up to my apartment and plug it into a direct box. He'd get it all fuzzed and wah-wahed out. And he could play!
“I remember one day Ad-Rock and Mike D had gone to Venice Beach. Me and Yauch did ‘Looking Down the Barrel of A Gun’ together, just me and him together in my apartment. I said, ‘I've got this idea for this ‘Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida’ thing.’ The sample is from an Iron Butterfly cover by Incredible Bongo Band, the guys who did ‘Apache.’ I couldn't believe nobody had used it before! And Yauch said, ‘I’ve got this bassline…’ He started playing and I went, ‘Ohhhh. This is so dope, man!’ Then I dropped that Pink Floyd shit on it and we freaked out. OH MAN! THAT'S IT! WE GOT IT!
“The music was done by the time those other guys came back from the beach. We had the cassette and when we played it Ad-Rock went, ‘Oh dudes, this is so perfect.’ Now, I wanted to make a follow-up to ‘Brass Monkey,’ so right as they were recording the line ‘coordinatin' trim is my man Dave Scilken,’ I go, ‘Say Dave Monkey!’ Because I wanted them to say ‘monkey’ so bad. Ad-Rock yells, ‘MONKEY!’ and the other guys go, ‘What are you doing?!’ Ad-Rock goes, ‘Get into it!’
“Ad-Rock was so cool. Every time I made a suggestion he'd go, ‘Okay cool!’ and it would be so ill because everybody would get pissed off. And Ad-Rock would go, ‘No, it’s in. It stays.’ While we were mixing ‘Shadrach,’ I had that Ballin’ Jack record with ‘never gonna let ’em say that I don’t love you’ and dropped it and Horovitz goes, ‘You gotta leave that on there!’
“The Ballin’ Jack record? It came from the 29-cent bin at Aron’s. Without Aron’s 29-cent rack, Delicious Vinyl would not exist; Paul’s Boutique could not exist. [Aron’s Records closed in 2006.] The thing about buying records is, you need to really consider the cover. If there’s a black guy wearing bell bottoms, buy it. Brown guy with bell bottoms, that’s kickin’ too. A white guy with bell bottoms, you might skip it, but you should not discriminate, pick it up. Now you’ve got a whole bunch of records of guys in bell bottoms, a section of your collection, a genre.
“Anyway, we pretty much finished Paul’s Boutique. I had the tape, and I was hanging out with Rick Rubin, we were on our way to a Slayer mix at Larabee in Rick’s Rolls-Royce. Every time I went to one of those sessions I’d have to stuff cotton in my ears and go play pinball. And Rick said, ‘Lemme hear it.’ So I play him the dub version of ‘Shake Your Rump’ and Rick is going, ‘This is funny.’ He kinda didn’t give a fuck about the Beastie Boys at that point, that part of his life was over. But for my sake, he was nice. He never said, ‘That’s great.’ I never expected him to.
“The thing is, towards the end of mixing the album I was like, It's going to be a disaster. And it was! It didn’t sell shit! But it got mind-blowing reviews. Which, I think, is better in the long run. I remember I thought I totally destroyed the Beastie Boys career. But somebody had to do it, so it might as well be me!”
Does Dike feel vindicated by time, by the Beasties’ subsequent success, by Paul’s Boutique’s lasting venerated status? He squints. He shrugs. He’s trying to puzzle out something else entirely.
“You know, after finishing the record, I bought this house. One day, years later, I’m hanging out here alone and I hear Beastie Boys music coming from outside, and I'm going, ‘What the fuck is that?!’ I thought it’s the neighbors. I go down and look and it’s all three Beastie Boys sitting in Yauch’s Coupe de Ville listening to Licensed to Ill at full volume. I’m going, ‘What are you guys doing!? You’re listening to your first album at full volume? I thought you hated that record!’
“The thing is, they never came up and knocked on the door. I could’ve understood if they knocked on my door and said, ‘Hey, what’s up!’ What are they talking about while they’re listening to their first album in my driveway? Are they reminiscing? Why my driveway?”
Dike turns and blinks.
“Isn’t that strange?”
Special thanks to Dan LeRoy, whose 33 1/3 book Paul’s Boutique suggested finding Matt Dike was possible. Illustration: André Gottschalk